‘Anti-evolution’ drugs could be the key to finally curing cancer

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Lee Bell

From: wired.co.uk

Cancer researchers are coming together to create a new generation of so-called ‘anti-evolution’ therapies, which they say will combat the disease’s “lethal ability to adapt and evade treatment”.

Experts from The Institute of Cancer Research in London teamed up with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and have launched a roadmap for overcoming what they call ‘the cancer evolution’.

The plan sets out how big data analysis can identify cancer’s capacity to sidestep treatment by evolving drug resistance, and uncover game-changing new treatments.

Cancers evolve and adapt much as animals and plants do in response to changes in the environment, or bacteria do when they become resistant to antibiotics. Patients may initially respond to cancer treatment, but they often then relapse as their disease evolves and becomes resistant.

The scientists will therefore use big data to predict how cancers will evolve and their escape routes from treatment, which they say will allow them to design state-of-the-art clinical trials, assessing the best ways of combining new anti-evolution therapies.

According to the researchers, the roadmap is the first major research strategy to tackle the evolution of cancer and drug resistance. It will involve predicting the path of cancer evolution from a single tumour sample, so doctors can see and counter-act cancer’s next move, creating brand-new types of cancer drug that block the whole process of cancer evolution, and directing patients’ immune systems to evolve in response to changes in the cancer.

This aims to block off cancer’s escape routes by adapting therapy to evolutionary changes and tracking the movement of tumours in patients’ bodies with high-tech imaging and radiotherapy.

According to Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said cancer evolution is the single biggest challenge we face in creating better treatments for patients.

“We have seen some great advances against cancer, but so often we find that the disease evolves, becoming ever more complex and genetically diverse, and finds ways to resist the effects of therapy,” he said.

“With such a major, enduring, complex challenge, we need a concerted effort to shift our approach to cancer research, and to focus pretty much everything we do on anticipating, outpacing and overcoming cancer evolution. Our new joint research strategy fires the starting gun on a race against cancer evolution, as we aim to predict the disease’s behaviour in order to stay one step ahead.”

The new research strategy, Making the discoveries: our strategy to defeat cancer, sets a series of targets for progress against cancer.

As part of this, the ICR will commit over the next five years to discovering a new drug targeted against a novel evolutionary mechanism and a new immunotherapy, as well as several other precision medicines.

The ICR and The Royal Marsden also pledge to deliver practice-changing clinical trial evidence of the benefits of innovative cancer treatment. They also plan to treat patients in clinical trials using the MR Linac – an advanced radiotherapy machine – to enhance delivery of radiation to tumours through real-time imaging.

Both groups said they will also be taking new approaches to treatment, early diagnosis and prevention from the research stage into routine clinical practice across the NHS.